11 News exclusive: Colorado Springs mom sentenced for murdering her kids could get conviction overturned

Deborah Nicholls' murder conviction could get overturned.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 10:28 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2022 at 7:13 PM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A Colorado mom sentenced for killing her children in a house fire for insurance money could be set free. That’s if the murder conviction gets tossed out.

You may remember that fire on Undimmed Circle in Colorado Springs back in March of 2003 that killed 11-year-old Jay, 5-year-old Sophia and 3-year-old Sierra. The neighborhood is off North Carefree Circle between North Academy Boulevard and Oro Blanco Drive. Their dad got out of the house. Their mom was at work at the time. Five years after the fire, the parents of those kids, Deborah and Timothy Nicholls, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But as of Tuesday, nearly 14 years to the day Deborah was sentenced, her case is back open. The details are spelled out in 100 pages filed with the court. In them, a non-profit made up of attorneys, the Korey Wise Innocence Project, said Deb she was wrongfully convicted.

“There is no proof of arson. All the evidence that the state put on (during trial) is just not valid. It has not withstood the test of time,” said attorney Anne-Marie Moyes, the program director for the Korey Wise Innocence Project. The organization has been working on Deb’s case for two and a half years.

11 News first interviewed Deborah from behind bars in 2018. She told us then she was working to get her case overturned.

“I want the truth to come out,” Deborah tells 11 News. “I want people to know that there was no arson in that house fire and we would never hurt our children.”

We asked if she killed her kids.

“No,” Deborah replied.

We asked if she had anything to do with the deaths of her kids.

“Absolutely not,” she stated.

In the 100-page document, the Korey Wise Innocence Project says there are several reasons Deb’s conviction should be overturned.

“We have new experts who have come onto the case and looked back at his work and see that he made serious mistakes in his calculations,” said Moyes.

What she is referencing is testimony from Dr. John Dehaan, the prosecution’s lead fire expert during the 2008 trial. He said the fire was arson.

A few years after Deborah’s trial, Dehaan stepped down from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences following an ethics investigation related to another case he worked on. 11 News spoke to him on the phone in 2018. He has since died.

“I’ve re-examined the data over a number of years and I still hold conclusions as expressed in the Tim Nicholls’ trial as well as the Deb Nicholls’ trial that the fire was deliberately started in the living room of the residence,” Dehaan had said before he passed.

So what happens from here? The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has to respond to the court by spring or early summer. Then, a judge can take a look at the case and can decide whether or not to overturn the conviction. If that happens, the DA can decide to retry Deborah or let her go free. The DA’s office denied our request for an interview.

We asked the attorney for Timothy if she will ask to have his conviction overturned.

“We hope the District Attorney’s Office will take a close look at the updated scientific information presented and recognize that this couple was wrongly convicted,” Attorney Gail Johnson wrote to KKTV 11 News.